Trudeau Says Canadians Should Wear Masks to Stave Off Second Wave of COVID-19 Pandemic

May 21, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

A second wave of COVID-19 is likely coming, and if Canadians want to avoid more pandemic-induced lockdowns, they need to do their part by wearing masks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

Pandemics usually produce more than one surge in infections, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa, so governments need to be ready to rapidly test people, trace their contacts and isolate positive cases.

But he added that individuals also need to contribute.

“We know there is more to do, and as we reopen, we know that citizens will continue to be extremely vigilant and careful about how they act, because that is going to be a key part of keeping us safe moving forward,” he said.

Canadian authorities have been sending mixed messages on the need for the public to wear masks. Seven weeks ago, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told citizens that people who are not sick should not be wearing face masks at all.

Quebec’s director of national health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, was also cool to the idea of widespread, non-medical mask usage through March and most of April. At the time, he said wearing masks can provide a false sense of security and lead people to touch their faces to adjust the mask, increasing the risk of infection.

But now, as economies across the country reopen and people begin spending more time outside and in shops, public health authorities are encouraging everyone—particularly in cities such as Montreal with high infection rates—to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.

On Wednesday, Tam recommended Canadians wear non-medical face masks in public when they aren’t sure they will be able to physically distance.

Ottawa-area resident Crystal Smalldon said people in her city are taking the advice from public health authorities “very seriously.”

Smalldon runs a Facebook group to help people in her area during the pandemic and recently began communicating with companies in her network that have retooled their operations to make personal protective equipment.

The Facebook group has a form that members can use to order and purchase equipment, at cost. She said that since Tam’s news conference on Wednesday, her group has received 16,000 requests for masks.

“I believe that our community understands how important it is to protect other people,” she said in an interview. “If you’re wearing a mask, it’s not about yourself, its about the people around you.”

In Toronto’s west end on Thursday, several people standing in line at big box stores were wearing masks.

“The last thing I want is to give [COVID-19] to someone else if I have it,” said Manny Reilly. “It’s really not a big deal to wear a mask.”

Mary Johnston said, “I’ve been wearing masks for a while now. It makes you wonder if we all should have been doing this since March. Would that have made a difference?”

Rob Pierce, however, said he’s still considering it.

“It seems like the government has been saying for months that masks don’t help, but now they supposedly do? If it is that important, maybe it should be the law, like the social distancing rule,” he said.

Tam told reporters in Ottawa Thursday that “this is quite a difficult period” because people are getting fatigued from isolating at home, which can lead them to forget the core public health directives.

“Right now is not the time to forget,” she said.

Canada doesn’t have a particularly high immunity rate from COVID-19, she said, because most of the population has not contracted the virus. That means “there will be susceptible people, and if they reignite a chain of transmission, you have to jump on that really fast,” she said.

“This virus can accelerate really quickly.”

Also Thursday, Trudeau said the federal government is sending $75 million to organizations that help Indigenous people living in urban areas and off reserves through the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a million Indigenous people live in cities or off reserves, Trudeau said, and they deserve good services that are culturally appropriate.

By Giuseppe Valiante